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Reflections on the Current Crisis

[ 274 ] July 21, 2017 |

In the wee hours of the night, I tweeted out my despair at the current crisis of the Republic. My immediate impetus was a terrific series of tweets by Jasmin Mujanović.

Here, I want to consolidate a few thoughts about some of the deep problems that have gotten us into this state of affairs: the occupation of the Oval Office by Donald Trump, an authoritarian kleptocrat. These are non-exhaustive, but I think not always adequately appreciated.

The first is what Julia Azari calls “weak parties and strong partisanship.”

Strong partisanship with weak parties makes for a couple of fairly serious problems for a democracy. The destabilization of institutions, for one. It’s hard for institutions — elected ones like Congress, the presidency, or state governments — to have legitimacy when partisan motives are constantly suspect. This is also true for other kinds of institutions, like courts and, as we’ve seen most recently, law enforcement agencies like the FBI. Citizens view much of what these institutions do through a partisan lens.

Suspicion of institutions doesn’t just undermine courts or Congress — it also undermines party politics as a whole. Party politics is really important for democracy; most political scientists still share E.E. Schattschneider’s observation that democracy is “unthinkable” without parties to do the work of campaigning, to organize stable coalitions, and to help citizens make sense of political choices.

For now, the problem is far more acute for the Republicans than the Democrats. Whatever one thinks of the ideology of the modern GOP, it generally served its most important institutional function at the presidential level: it prevented the nomination of charlatans and nut jobs. With hindsight, we can see its ability to do so begin to atrophy after the 2008 election when we look at the nomination of, for example, Christine O’Donnell in for Delaware Senate. But, at the time, this looked more like the flukes that regularly occur at the state level.

The 2012 presidential nominating process, however, now appears something of a canary in the coal mine. We saw a succession of “bubble candidates,” including Bachman and Cain, who were manifestly unsuited for the Presidency. But Romney prevailed, giving the impression that the party could still effectively screen out the lunatics. Romney’s loss in the general—particularly given unwarranted expectations, fanned by conservative media, that Obama was a weak candidate—almost certainly twisted the knife into the ability of GOP institutional mechanisms to manage its base. Once again, The Onion proved prescient.

As Azari discusses, the weakening of political parties is a long-term phenomenon, with a number of structural causes. But I do not think we should underestimate the role of the Bush Administration in setting in motion the conditions that led us to Trump. Given the current ascendency of the GOP at the national and state level, it is sometimes hard to remember how much the Bush Administration—through the Iraq War, Katrina, and its handling of economic policy—destroyed the Republican brand. By Obama November of 2008, 26% of Americans identified as Republicans. Even including leaners—the more important number—the GOP was in terrible shape.

At this point, GOP congressional leaders made a pivotal decision for how to rebuild.

During a lengthy discussion, the senior GOP members worked out a plan to repeatedly block Obama over the coming four years to try to ensure he would not be re-elected.

Attending the dinner were House members Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and Pete Sessions. From the Senate were Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign and Jon Kyl. Others present were former House Speaker and future – and failed – presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and the Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who organised the dinner and sent out the invitations. [….]

The dinner table was set in a square at Luntz’s request so everyone could see one another and talk freely. The session lasted four hours and by the end the sombre mood had lifted: they had conceived a plan. They would take back the House in November 2010, which they did, and use it as a spear to mortally wound Obama in 2011 and take back the Senate and White House in 2012, Draper writes.

“If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority,” said Keven McCarthy, quoted by Draper. “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.”

The complete embrace of tactics honed by Gingrich, first in the 1994 elections, and then during the Clinton presidency, required synergizing the messaging of the Republican party with the more extreme impulses of right-wing media. It received a major assist from the rise of the Tea Party, which reconstituted much of the core Republican coalition under a new label—but in the form of a movement outside of, and already antagonistic to, GOP institutions.

This story is familiar to LGM readers, so I won’t dwell too much more on it. The key point is that the Republican party mounted a scorched-earth campaign geared toward delegitimating not only Obama and the Democrats, but the entire system of governance. In doing so, it stretched and broke many of the procedural norms that undergird American formal institutions. Nonetheless, we should still reflect on how extraordinarily dangerous, and irresponsible, this decision was given the state of the country and of the world. We were in the midst of the greatest global economic crisis since the Great Depression, fighting failing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and engaged in a worldwide counter-terrorism campaign. The overhang of these problems still persist today.

Second, I also think we sometimes neglect the broader effects of the Iraq War. As Daniel Deudney and John Ikenberry open their new article in Survival, “The 2003 Iraq War was one of the great disasters in the history of American foreign policy.” Sold under false pretenses, badly designed and implemented, and rolled into a Republican wedge strategy built around weaponizing 9/11 for partisan gain, the Iraq War was an unmitigated disaster in blood and treasure. The United States has spent, by some estimates, $2 trillion to, in effect, destabilize the Middle East, as well as to undermine American military power in real and perceived terms. It aided and abetted the militarization of local police departments.

The Iraq War also dealt an enormous blow to American political institutions. It damaged prominent Democrats. If Clinton had not voted for the Iraq War, she would have been elected president in 2008. I’ve already mentioned its effects on the GOP. It’s no accident that Trump points to the Iraq War when attempting to discredit the intelligence community, or that most Republican voters are indifferent to the nearly uniform condemnation of Trump by the Republican foreign-policy establishment.

Thomas Oatley argues that the decision by the Bush Administration to finance the Iraq War through borrowing, rather than raising taxes, lies at the heart of the Great Recession. At the least, it likely structured global financial flows in a way that made the world economy particularly vulnerable to the effects of the subprime crisis. It, along with the direct effects of Bush’s tax cuts, saddled the United States with enormous debt heading into the Great Recession.

This brings me to the third point: American political economy. Starting under Reagan, the United States has run pro-cyclical budget deficits. In the process, its accumulated a huge amount of debt. This has not only hamstrung progressive policies—the “starve the beast” strategy—but its had widespread effects on American political economy. Servicing this debt depends on low interest rates, low interest rates encourage private-sector borrowing and help fuel the growth of the financial sector.* That’s not a problem, per se, in the presence of robust regulation of the financial sector. But, that’s been sorely lacking. Dodd-Frank was a step in the right direction, but even its gains look precarious. This contributes to boom-and-bust cycles, and it is part of an overall story about the financialization of the American economy and the rise of the credit economy.

The combination of low taxes, lax financial regulation, and the erosion of government policies aimed at combatting inequality through transfers, has been a toxic stew. The rise in college tuition paid for by accumulating student debt provides an examples of one of the relevant dynamics. Cuts to support for higher education drive up tuition. The policy instrument used to address the rising costs? Encourage the financial sector to provide loans.The shift to financing through personal debt allows colleges and universities to raise tuition. Rinse and repeat.

More generally, people making middling incomes—and higher—compensate for wage stagnation by taking out easily available debt. This reduces labor mobility and bargaining power, because the ‘cost’ of missing a loan payment can be catastrophic—people making otherwise decent wages can no longer afford to go for periods without a paycheck. Those who don’t make enough to qualify for relatively cheap credit are forced into usurious ‘payday loan’ schemes.

All of this is part of an enormous shift of risk onto ordinary Americans. Instead of defined-pension plans, we have taxpayer subsidized individual retirement schemes. These inject money into the financial sector, while the reduction of the number of large institutional investors managing pension programs reduces effective oversight. Lax regulation has itself turned the financial sector into a monster, devising new instruments to, in effect, extract rents. None of this is necessary for the sector to perform its core productive economic functions of underwriting investment. It not only helps drive boom-and-bust cycles, but also drags down overall economic growth. Risk for large financial institutions are socialized—hence “too big to fail”—but the stew of economic policy makes individuals particularly vulnerable.

All of this creates a vicious pattern. As the economic clout of the financial industry grows, so does its political clout. The analogy here is with the entrenchment of trade liberalization. This can produce a political cycle where those pro-liberalization sectors become do better, become wealthier, and hence more powerful. The reverse happens in industries that benefit from protectionism. That does not mean that the cycle can’t be broken, but it affects the playing field.

My hardly original contention is not just that Bernie is right in his general diagnoses—we need robust social democratic policies. It is also that economic anxiety, loss of faith in governance as something that serves ordinary people, and other conditions that render democracies vulnerable to soft-authoritarianism, are quite possibly rooted in the configuration of low taxes and financialization that Obama only managed to dent. Trade is something of a scapegoat, because with a different political economy we could capture more of the surpluses generated by open trade and reinvest them.

What does this all mean? It means that the crisis of American institutions is grave indeed. It’s been here for some time, and it came to an immediate head with the election of a demagogue. Trump is weaponizing partisanship—and the underlying loss of faith in democratic institutions—in the service of his narrow interests: status, wealth, and, it seems increasingly clear, avoiding criminal and civil culpability for his business practices. I say “weaponizing” because the right-wing feedback loop ensures that each norm he breaks and each line his crosses is instantly rendered legitimate to 30-40% of the American electorate. It becomes evidence that he’s a fighter, that he doesn’t pull his punches, that the establishment is out to get him. The GOP, whose interest in voter disenfranchisement as a partisan power play dates way back, is, as Damon Linker notes, at risk of going full authoritarian.

I don’t know how this ends. The structural conditions—which extend far beyond political economy—are deeply embedded. While it should be clear that my policy sympathies, at least on economics, broadly align with the democratic left, it seems like we’re doomed to repeat the time-honored pathology of ripping the anti-Trump coalition apart over policy disagreements. Meanwhile, the Democratic position bears some eery resemblances to the GOP after 2008. The Republicans are dominant. While the primaries were in no way “rigged” in the way that the far left and RT assert, the party did take steps to ‘clear the field’ for Clinton. As a result of these, and other missteps, the party is at risk of becoming similarly unmoored from its base.

It’s also not clear where even a Democratic sweep leads. How do we rebuild norms? If we leave Republican violations ‘unpunished,’ those norms are gone. But if we retaliate, we risk making the crisis worse. The treatment of Garland provides a nice illustration. With the Court profoundly politicized, the only norm we had was that the President got to appoint—and the Senate consider—nominees in the event of a vacancy. McConnell ripped that up. The only way recourse would be to pack the Court. But that’s extremely risky—not only in terms of the politics, but in terms of the downstream institutional implications for judicial independence.

Thus, we have multiple pathways forward, none of them look good. For example:

  • Tump stays on, doing enormous damage. In the worst-case scenario, he combines the powers of the Presidency with his soft-authoritarian dispositions to destroy opponents in civil society and the anchors of professionalism in the civil service. This enables him to secure a second term, and in doing so completely transforms the GOP.
  • Congressional Republicans finally move to impeach him. This could itself provoke a devastating political crisis as Trump deploys every tool in this arsenal to protect himself. Democrats may relish a Republican civil war, but we could be looking at civil violence and domestic terrorism not seen in some time. If the GOP base stays with Trump, the remnants of the democratically-minded GOP could be swept away. And recall that Trump isn’t going to go quietly into the night even if removed from office.
  • Trump’s incompetence and institutional restraints work well enough that Democrats retake the Congress. If they move to impeach, it could be the first scenario but with the GOP rallying around Trump. Game that one out yourselves.
  • Democrats recapture the legislative and executive branches by 2020. That opens up the problem I raised earlier. How do we put things back together again? Can we?

I fear we need a new institutional compact, as we saw after the Civil War or after the Great Depression. How do we get such a compact in today’s political conditions?

All of this assumes that the Democrats don’t themselves succumb. One advantage we have: the partisan politics of opposing Trump position the party on the small-d democratic side when it comes to the struggle over the institutions of the Republic. And what if another collapse hits? Our institutions are already failing in the wake of the Great Recession.

In the short term, though, Trumpism must be defeated. It must be discredited. But on its own terms. This is a fight, first and foremost, to preserve the core of democratic institutions, not to destroy them.

[Shout outs to Paul Musgrave and Andreas Kern for discussions on these issues; image from the Fallout Wiki, intended as metaphor]

*As Yestobesure points out in comments, this reads an awful lot like a causal claim. I do not mean to imply that deficits lower rates, but was thinking about the degree that the political economy of debt and credit depends on low rates. This was a long post, composed with too great rapidity, and I’m sure there are other places where it doesn’t really hold together. However, there’s an interesting dynamic here associated with the US floating lots of debt and the willingness of overseas governments and investors to purchase it.

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  • saraeanderson

    Lately I’ve been telling people who bitch and moan about the government to run for office if they’re so upset. It pisses them off.

    • dnexon

      I’m not a viable candidate. Otherwise, I would run for office. :-)

      • Heim Yankel

        So many say I am not a viable candidate and that may given your expertise on the subject be correct. Has the gotcha media not destroyed our candidate reservoir?

    • BubbaDave

      Don’t we have as POTUS exhibit A for “why being angry is not sufficient qualification for running for office?”

      • saraeanderson

        I suppose we do. But I’m just calling people on their bullshit.

      • McAllen

        In addition, it takes money to run for office, money a lot of people don’t have.

        • postmodulator

          Then, too, some of us have adult lives that are essentially a 25-year-long sex and drug scandal. Which is pretty badass, but also probably disqualifying.

          • SatanicPanic

            #humblebrag

            • postmodulator

              A little.

          • Dennis Orphen

            Only if you run as a Democrat. There is a lot of fundamental asymmetry in our politics.

            • YNWA40515

              Yeah. There’s no credible conversion narrative for a Democratic candidate for any office. If you have a lifetime of debauchery, you can get yourself some Jesus (or “re-commit to your faith,” or whatever) and at least have a shot at winning as long as you mouth the correct pieties and make an effort at seeming to care about Bible/God/Whatever . . . as long as you do so as a Republican. If you’re a Democrat, quite a large part of the liberal base might actually be reluctant to credit your faith, the mushy middle would mostly ignore it, and the right would be skeptical in the extreme.

              To put it another way– with regard to a depressingly large part of the theistically inclined electorate, Democrats have no way to wash their sins away so long as they remain guilty of the original, unforgivable sin: being a Democrat.

          • David Hunt

            Well, it wasn’t disqualifying for Donald Trump, so there’s some wiggle room there…

            • Dennis Orphen

              Only for Republicans.

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            “some of us have adult lives that are essentially a 25-year-long sex and drug scandal. Which is pretty badass, but also probably disqualifying.”

            You just woke up from a two year coma, didn’t you? I’ve got some bad news…

            • N__B

              Robb Stark isn’t king of Westeros?

    • Hogan

      When people complain about health care, do you tell them to start an insurance company?

      • Brownian

        I hated the lineups at the DMV, so I started my own. First time licensees pay only $5. Please ignore the fact that ‘big-ass f’n trucks’ is misspelled on the back of the licenses. Really pissed at the printer because of that. (Started my own printshop as a result. One thing led to another, so I also own a papermill, a lumber corporation, and a treeplanting company.)

        Be sure to stop by. Our hours of operation are Wednesdays, 2:38 PM through 2:54 PM.

      • saraeanderson

        I tell them to run for office and vote.

    • I would, but the skeletons in my closet have skeletons in their closets.

      It’s skeletons all the way down.

    • Timurid

      I hear lots of talk recently about mobilizing and running from the ground up, literally starting at the school board and dogcatcher level and gradually working upwards over years and decades… basically what the Republicans did from Nixon to the present. That’s good advice in isolation and a very sound plan once the current crisis is resolved… but it’s of limited utility at this moment. It’s like talking about how jets need to be designed and maintained better as the one we’re riding in rapidly loses altitude…

      • kvs

        The scale of organizing infrastructure it takes to be competitive at every electoral level is roughly equivalent to what it takes to organize an effective response to the current crisis. They are broadly similar exercises with some key differences in form and structure largely due to campaign finance laws and non-profit (c) status, as well as differences in the venue for some activities.

        tl;dr party-building activities are relevant for achieving both short- and long-term goals.

    • wengler

      Running for office has all the appeal of getting bashed in the head with a baseball bat. If anything has been perfected in the last 30 years, it’s opposition politics. And even if you win, you are stuck spending most of your time sucking up to rich people so they fund your next campaign.

  • Boots Day

    I used to think the Republicans were going to have to lose some elections before they’d care about what Trump is doing, but now I’m starting to think that may have been pessimistic. It’s becoming more and more clear that Trump could not care less about the Republican Party, or even about the 2018 midterm elections, and he’ll do whatever he can to save his own hide, even if it destroys the GOP. Firing Mueller and issuing blanket pardons for everyone who’s ever worked for him would be a great way to ensure that the Dems control the House for the second half of his term.

    That doesn’t matter at all to Trump – but it’s going to matter to Paul Ryan and everyone else in the House GOP leadership. If we’re lucky, maybe that will force them to grow a spine and act like patriotic Americans for a change.

    • so-in-so

      Look at you being all optimistic! Even then, the erosion of the Republic continues. McConnell’s handling of Garland didn’t really involve Dump at all, so the rot is really deep.

      • Bizarro Mike

        McConnell’s handling of the Russian election involvement did involve Trump though so … wait, this is worse.

    • persephone_the_wanderer

      One difficulty here is something the article touched on re Garland and Gorsuch: the best-case scenario for normal politics is for Democrats to retake the House in 2018. *Even if that happens,* the Republicans will still control the Senate and the WH, which will enable them to confirm an enormous raft of (i’ll be frank) psychotic neoconfederates to the federal bench, and perhaps secure an outright Supreme Court majority. If that happens, then even if the Democrats retake the Senate and the White House in 2020, they will face incredibly strong headwinds from a judiciary that will literally roll back the New Deal and send us into Lochner territory. If that happens, Democrats and other progressives will be faced with two choices: a) accept this, accept more gerrymandering, accept more vote suppression, and probably lose in 2022 or b) blow up the judiciary as it stands; pack the courts from top to bottom, *which will itself further erode the rule of law.*

      It is very very hard to see a happy end here. I hate myself for writing it, but if we haven’t managed to win Reconstruction in the last 200 years, we will not win it in the next 4. Every single person reading this should probably expect, to at least some probability, that the best-case scenario is that we all spend the rest of our lives fighting tooth-and-nail for the existence of liberal democracy in our country. That’s the good ending.

      • potsherds

        I don’t think the goals of Reconstruction are achievable, in any length of time that is shorter than another 200 years, without another civil war.

        I agree with your post entirely. Fighting tooth and nail merely to slow down the loss of our democratic institutions is the best outcome we could hope for. The GOP is a radical white supremacist authoritarian party. That shift has already occurred.

      • Timurid

        If the next Democrat President is facing a 6-3 or 7-2 right wing majority, SCOTUS is going to get packed like a summer sausage. The alternative would be a cabal of Bush and Trump appointees effectively ruling the country from the bench.

        • Dennis Orphen

          Jusicial Activism? Criminal coddling soft on crime judges? Every accusation is a confession.

        • Drew

          If the next D President is staring down the barrel of a right wing scotus majority and doesn’t have the stomach to court pack, he/she isn’t fit for the job.

          • Latverian Diplomat

            The media will go insane over the “power grab”.

            I think a case can be made for and against FDR’s “court-packing” but the press of his time went nuts too.

            It’s just too easy for a simplistic media to “make a stand” on, you know, for balance.

            • neroden

              To hell with them. I’d go further: the Constitution says that judges serve on “good behavior”, and we all know Thomas, Kennedy, etc. behaved badly on Bush v. Gore. Declare that they resigned their positions the moment they did so and arrest them for impersonating judges.

              It’s actually time to abolish the undemocratic Senate. It’s actually well past time to scrap the broken, anti-democratic structure of the US Congress and establish a parliamentary democracy with proportional representation like real democracies have.

              I’m not sure when people will realize this, but people seem to be waking up.

              • There’s an actual fucking process in the Constitution for declaring when a judge has displayed “bad behavior”. It’s called “impeachment”.

                As for the rest of your fantasies about rewriting the Constitution entirely, you will never get 3/4 of the state legislatures to agree.

      • neroden

        The judiciary as it stands, packed with confessed criminals like Clarence Thomas, is worthless. Blow it up in the obvious way: set term limits on the judges. Only requires a constitutional amendment.

  • so-in-so

    Hmm, good start for drinking on a Friday… to be continued indefinitely.
    Very bleak assessment, but I certainly can’t see any real holes in it.

  • Spiny

    There are a thousand things that need to be done, and I’m by no means suggesting this is top, but I want to see a cultural pushback on the left against cynicism. Politicians lie and cheat, and people get tired, despairing, upset and dismayed. I get that, but cynicism is not realism. I’m tired of seeing whole swathes of the left behave like it is, I think it has really left us at a disadvantage in responding to exactly the reality the post describes.

    • SatanicPanic

      That was my issue with the Sanders campaign in a nutshell.

      • Spiny

        It was a big part of mine too.

        • Roberta

          I found the Sanders campaign positive precisely because I saw it as a counterweight to cynicism. But I agree with the point that we need to push back against cynicism wherever we see it.

          • neroden

            Well, we need to push back against defeatism and against “they’re all the same” ism.

            A healthy level of disrespect for the current situation is good.

    • Anna in PDX

      Cosigned

    • nemdam

      Uh, but did you see the Goldman Sachs speeches? YOU aren't the one not being realistic!

    • burritoboy

      This is just ludicrous. What is not cynicism is called the good. The left’s ancestors rejected that in the seventeenth century. You can’t run around screaming about how virtue is nonsense and Aristotle was stupid for four centuries and then rediscover it in the last twenty minutes you have.

      • Spiny

        …What?

        • burritoboy

          Your what is precisely what I mean. You’re the endpoint of four centuries of philosophy: you don’t understand even how to begin to think about goodness or badness. That’s why your horizon is limited to cynicism and something called realism. Your regime has only comparative moments left, and you’re still stuck – even if you don’t know it – trying to make analytic philosophy make human sense. I wish you luck, but your enemies are still only going to give you twenty minutes.

          • sharculese

            Thanks Donny Darko.

          • postmodulator

            Does anyone know what he’s on about? Or, alternatively, what he’s on?

            • AlexSaltzberg

              Meet me outside in five minutes, I’ll hook you up.

          • medrawt

            Oh come off it. “Cynicism” as in “whatever, everybody knows politicians lie, so what’s different now?” is what Spiny was referring to, and can be discussed without reference to the deep underpinnings of political and epistemic philosophy, which I might have been briefly qualified to banter about with you when I was in school, but I haven’t done the reading in a long time, so save your breath.

      • Gepap

        This is philosophically juvenile – if anything, actual cynicism is impossible from anyone who at some point isn’t an idealist.

        • farin

          Or a dog, I suppose.

    • I song for you, borrowed from Roy’s place.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY_LxzoAwts

    • Van Buren

      Based on my personal experience, politicians lie and cheat, but businessmen lie and cheat far worse and more often.

    • NeonTrotsky

      People on the left need to understand that there is never going to be a perfect elected leader who will solve all our problems for us, we need to elect favorable people who can be pressured into action. The relationship between the civil rights movement and President Johnson seems like a good template to me.

      • the actual Bajmahal

        Or President Lincoln and the abolitionists.

      • Drew

        Hell, even Debs said ” I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out.”

    • The Lorax

      This is something I learned from great Americans like Lincoln, MLK, and Obama. I don’t always remember to reject cynicism, but I’m trying.

      • tsam100

        Right–and it’s a very fine line–a tricky distinction between wariness and cynicism, but if a person keeps themselves as informed as possible, it becomes much easier to figure out who’s blowing smoke and who’s telling the truth. I suffer from chronic cynicism, but all it takes is an effort to do better, rather than being lazy and giving in to it.

    • kvs

      I’d restate this as there are 2 fundamental problems with cynical, revolutionary leftist politics in the US. The first is that if leftists are to claim any genuine sort of populism, then they need to care about what happens to people. A leftist revolutionary approaching is dependent on accelerationist theory which necessarily entails allowing harm to come to people. That’s immoral.

      The second is that, even if accelerationism wasn’t morally disqualified, as a practical matter revolutionary political strategies are likely to lead to reactionary right-wing outcomes. The most likely way to achieve positive change is through a gradual, iterative approach.

      Which leaves that cynical crowd simultaneously cheerleading morally repugnant outcomes while being horribly naive about their likelihood to be the ones who successfully pick up the pieces.

      • neroden

        As a practical matter, the correct strategy is to create alternative institutions now. The acceleration is already happening and will happen with or without us; we should ignore it, as noise. The establishment will collapse of its own weight and it is accelerating its own collapse.

        The correct strategy is to create alternative institutions now so that we have a decent chance of being the ones who pick up the pieces.

  • dogboy

    Just because it contains my favorite visualization of our partisanship, I’ll link to “The Rise of Partisanship and Super-Cooperators in the U.S. House of Representatives” by Andris & Lee et al.
    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0123507

  • SatanicPanic

    Here I am sitting in California thinking- my state is pretty well governed. What are we supposed to do? Just watch while the rest of the nation goes to crap? Asking honestly. I don’t see how we could be governed by an out-of-touch and foolish federal government when our state is paying the bills. I’m not suggesting Calexit, but I’m wondering how that works.

    • spencer_e9876

      “I’m not suggesting Calexit”

      I’m not either, but then again, I’m not not suggesting it.

      • postmodulator

        The current system disenfranchises Californians to such an extent that they’d be quite justified in at least wishing for it. And I’m not a Californian.

      • SatanicPanic

        I’m genuinely curious about how this going to work. We’re going to be run by a white supremacist federal government while basically funding rural America? I’m trying to think of good examples of countries where power was held by rural areas that didn’t end in disaster or the country breaking apart. Maybe Japan, but that country is 99% Japanese. We’re not 99% anything in this state.

        • spencer_e9876

          Honestly, I can’t see a nice tidy resolution to any of this. And I’ve been looking for one.

        • You could probably push for a lot of devolution. And maybe you’ll get lucky and the whacko state’s rights judges Trump will install will have a simulacrum of consistency in regards to that position [haha, I know] .

          • SatanicPanic

            This is probably the best we can hope for.

        • mds

          We’re going to be run by a white supremacist federal government while basically funding rural America?

          Of course not. As the two major legislative pushes teed up for this year demonstrate, rural America won’t actually get funded, either.

      • Just_Another_Person_123

        As a lifelong Californian, if CalExit was in any way feasible (politically), I’d vote for it in a second. After all, what the hell happens when the Republicans run all the decent educated people out of enough states to secure the presidency and a majority in congress in perpetuity? Are California and NY going to be forced to permanently funding a federal government run by Randian lizard people who conceptualize government as a legal tool for extracting rents from the morons (edit: “economically insecure individuals”) in the south who put them in power?

        • neroden

          The free states got annoyed at constantly subsidizing the slave states in about 1850. Such a situation does not last indefinitely.

      • Dennis Orphen

        We don’t have to leave the US socially and culturally. The US left us.

        • rm

          Seriously. If Calexit happens (it won’t), y’all should call yourselves The United States of America and let the rest of us be the Republic of Gilead.

          • Dennis Orphen

            It won’t? Same sex marriage will never be allowed. Marijuana will never be legal. And a black man will NEVER be POTUS, let alone be re-elected and survive 8 years. I’m not saying it Calexit will happen, but it’s possible.

            • The military doesn’t give a fuck about same sex marriage. The military doesn’t care if a black man is POTUS. And the military doesn’t care about (civilian use of) marijuana.

              The military DOES CARE, a lot, about having California in the US. Giving up the Pacific Coastline and its defenses and ports (necessary to maintain and supply the Pacific Fleet) is simply not acceptable to the military under any circumstances, as it would leave the US highly vulnerable to invasion from China.

              There are no circumstances in which California can withstand the Armed Forces of the remainder of the United States. Any attempt at a Calexit rebellion would be utterly crushed, and the California legislature and governor that signed off on such a thing would be deposed and imprisoned.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        Born and raised Californian; live abroad. I oppose Calexit because it’s a big waste of time and breath and money and energy because it literally cannot be done without going to war or getting the consent of the rest of the USA. Neither is a viable path. So we really need to not waste our time on such talk.

        California may enjoy basking in its own enlightenment, but there is a bigger battle going on, and your fellow Americans need you. Join the fight.

        • SatanicPanic

          What exactly do you mean though by “join the fight”? We’ll probably be able to whittle down the Republicans in the SoCal delegation by another 2-3, but after that, what?

          • Lost Left Coaster

            Oppose Trump through some or all of the different means at your disposal, acting in solidarity with your fellow Americans rather than turning your back on them for some fantasy of “Calexit.” That’s what I mean.

            • SatanicPanic

              That’s no less vague than the first thing you said.

        • spencer_e9876

          So what you’re saying is, I have to choose which unwinnable fight I’d rather enlist in.

          • Dennis Orphen

            He who runs away lives to fight another day.

      • Latverian Diplomat

        Apropos of nothing, “Calexit” sounds like a laxative used for weight loss.

    • catbirdman

      Californian born and raised. I’ve been eyeing Calexit since the the day Trump was elected. If this BS goes on for 8 years I really don’t think we’re going to just keep taking it from, and giving it to, these idiots. Something’s gotta give.

    • As long as you’re not seceding so that you can keep black people enslaved, I’m cool with it.

      • mattmcirvin

        That would be the effect, though.

        • Dennis Orphen

          True, but they would make a heck of a fifth column. Sure, the Russian satellite CSA would have one behind our lines too, but if you ever have seen the people who agitate (I use the term very loosely) for the state of Jefferson here in rural CA (and I do every fucking day), well let’s just say it’s a sea of walkers, colostomy bags, oxygen tanks (all paid for by the evil gubbinent), handicapped parking permits (but fuck the ADA, amirite?) in the service of people who probably can’t send a text message and definitely won’t use turn signals.

    • neroden

      (1) Build solid institutions within California which can be extended outside California if other states sign on.
      (2) Set up state compacts between well-run states.
      (3) Don’t be afraid to print your own money.
      (4) Don’t be afraid to set up your own army.

      It isn’t necessary to do Calexit now, but it would be wise to prepare.

      • (2) Set up state compacts between well-run states.
        (3) Don’t be afraid to print your own money.
        (4) Don’t be afraid to set up your own army.

        The first of these requires Congressional approval, per the Constitution.
        The other two are flat-out forbidden by the Constitution. Any attempt to do so would constitute rebellion and result in the destruction of the state government by the US military.

        Your fantasies about overthrowing the Constitution are delusional.

  • nemdam

    Tump stays on, doing enormous damage. In the worst-case scenario, he
    combines the powers of the Presidency with his soft-authoritarian
    dispositions to destroy opponents in civil society and the anchors of
    professionalism in the civil service. This enables him to secure a
    second term, and in doing so complete transforms the GOP.

    Call me naive, but this is why I’ve always thought Trump will be removed when it comes out that he definitively colluded with Russia. If there are no consequences for this, then the above scenario is what will happen. And, again call me naive, when we as a country start having the discussion about who we are if Trump can get away with this, he will be impeached because is something the country will not accept.

    Congressional Republicans finally move to impeach him. This could itself
    provoke a devastating political crisis as Trump deploys every tool in
    this arsenal to protect himself. Democrats may relish a Republican civil
    war, but we could be looking at civil violence and domestic terrorism
    not seen in some time. If the GOP base stays with Trump, the remnants of
    the democatically-minded GOP could be swept away. And recall that Trump
    isn’t going to go quietly into the night even if removed from office.

    While there is no question in my mind that removing Trump would be spectacular, the above is why it will be far from fixing everything. Removing Trump will be an ugly process and will release ugly forces in our society that are just brewing below the surface.

    No matter what happens, to put it mildly, our country is in for some tough times in the future.

    • Nym w/o Qualities

      Imagine if the House goes Democratic and impeaches, but then Trump wins the Senate impeachment battle.

      • Bizarro Mike

        I see this as a likely future, but it seems grim. I’m not sure if it is better or worse than no impeachment. But it will be a crisis moment for American democracy.

        • nemdam

          I actually don’t think this is likely (if Trump is impeached, he will be convicted in the Senate. Yes, I know the vote threshold is higher in the Senate.), but if it does, it will be much, much better for the country for Trump to stand for trial even if he is acquitted. Formally airing all of his abuses in Congress will basically convict him in the court of public opinion, but more importantly, even requiring him to go through with a trial is at least something to hold him accountable.

          • Bizarro Mike

            I really hope you are right. At least there can be truth if not reconciliation.

          • neroden

            2/3 in the Senate is practically impossible. Andrew Johnson was guilty as sin, blatantly refusing to implement laws passed by Congress (while pardoning traitors who had waged war on the US!), half the Senate was vacant at the time, and they *still* couldn’t convict him.

            This is a problem. However, I suspect people are counting votes in the Senate. Trump has managed to personally alienate a large number of Republican Senators.

            • Kapricorn4

              “Trump has managed to personally alienate a large number of Republican Senators”

              And that’s the good news.

      • Given that the barriers to impeachment + conviction and 25th amendment removal are about equally difficult to overcome, I’d incline towards attempting the second, because if it succeeded it might be able to harness the (generally malign!) state power of involuntary commitment for psychiatric disorders, and (given a choice) I’d rather see Trump martyred in a loonie bin than martyred in a prison (or hanged for treason, if it came to that): no matter what happened he’d become (even more of a) secular saint to some people, but binning him might turn a good number of them off. …. I think I’ve just become one of those, how do you call them?, “cynics” and “realists”, haven’t I??? Shit.

        • I’m still holding out hope that the walking pear shaped orange sack of silly puddy has the aortic rupture that looks like it’s been coming to him for a half dozen years finally show up and save us all the humiliation.

          I for one applaud the holdover Obama White House staff for indulging him in his two scoops of ice cream and KFC. True patriots they.

          • PohranicniStraze

            Macron, Merkel, and other sane heads of state should start very ostentatiously eating three scoops of frozen custard at state meals, to see if they can goad Angry Tangelo into eating four.

        • 25th Amendment removal is HARDER – vastly harder – than impeachment. Because it requires 2/3 of the House as well as the Senate, rather than just a majority.

      • Drew

        I don’t think it would strengthen him/backfire the way it did with Clinton. Clinton was far more popular at the time of impeachment.

        • Dennis Orphen

          Also Clinton wasn’t guilty of anything. And if you think he was, I don’t have a chastity belt to sell you, but I can get a prototype (or three since Bill is a guy and the sex was oral) up and start taking advance orders.

    • Daglock

      [when we as a country start having the discussion about who we are if Trump can get away with this] Why have we, as a country, not started having a discussion about who we are with Trump at the helm, doing what he has already done? Maybe this blog post’s analysis will get the ball rolling.

      • nemdam

        We have, but there’s still too many in denial outside the Trump cult (like the MSM). Trump being proven to be a Russian agent will end that denial, and the discussion will get serious.

        Don’t forget it was just a few months ago that talking about Trump/Russia made you a “conspiracy theorist” and media types were bending over backwards to come up with innocent explanations for Trump. People have been in denial because the consequences are too scary to contemplate.

        • brad nailer

          Grassley apparently just cancelled the appearances by Manafort and Trump Jr. before the Judiciary Committee and is going to question the company that paid for The Dossier instead. Some people are in denial, and some are happy to keep it that way.

  • Mike Travers

    it prevented the nomination of charlatans and nut jobs. With hindsight, we can see its ability to do so begin to atrophy after the 2008 election

    Sarah Palin was nominated in 2008, so I’d say the process began a bit earlier than that. A quibble perhaps.

    • dnexon

      VPOTUS is unusual, because it’s entirely at the discretion of the candidate. And it was weird: minimal vetting and all that. But point taken.

      • postmodulator

        Wasn’t she generally believed to have been pushed on the candidate?

        • sharculese

          She was pushed by Bill Kristol, but also McCain was just pissed off after they told him he couldn’t nominate Joe Lieberman, so he chose her in a fit of pique.

          • postmodulator

            I’d call that the party choosing more than him.

          • BiloSagdiyev

            For those of you plugging names into the DeFarge App on your smartphones, or grinding axes while you suffer through NPR broadcasts, remember that Matthew Continetti was working for Kristol at the time and was involved in that weird project.

      • Daglock

        McCain was a far more viable candidate before he was saddled with Palin in 2008, but then we get Trump in 2016. I’d guess that the GOP prematurely predicted a Trump-type shift in voter psychology in 2008.

      • Dennis Orphen

        If the GOP did any actual vetting to any standard whatsoever it would cease to exist right down to its last member by disqualifying itself entirely.

    • Deborah Bender

      Before 1945, a heartbeat away from the presidency wasn’t something people worried about.

      • neroden

        Actually, people started worrying about the VP position after McKinley was assassinated and Teddy Roosevelt became President. They had *wildly different* political views, and the McKinley faction was furious.

    • neroden

      Reagan was by any fair evaluation a charlatan (“I’ll cut taxes, raise spending, and balance the budget”) and a nut job (actually had Alzheimers while in office, couldn’t tell his movies apart from reality).

      The process started in 1980.

  • StinkinBadger

    Well written and poignant, albeit depressing.

    • Charles S

      Where’s the fentanyl when you need it?

      • Dennis Orphen

        It’s on the popular baby names list, just ahead of Propecia and closing in on Mylanta.

        • A search of the (free) ancestry.com database reveals several dead Americans with “Mylanta” as given name, in particular, one in the 1940 federal census and one in the 1870 one; also 2 in the California Birth Index.

          The same search also turned up “Mylanta Flowstazzle” in Ancestry.com’s
          “Public Member Photos & Scanned Documents”, complete with a softcore portrait glossed as “Little Twatface”. I am not sure that can be trusted.

          I’m not going to look up Procepia but at this point nothing would surprise me.

  • AMK

    “Congressional Republicans finally move to impeach him. This could itself provoke a devastating political crisis as Trump deploys every tool in this arsenal to protect himself.”

    The “tools in his arsenal” begin and end with a GOP that refuses to hold him to account for anything. If the GOP is actually moving to impeach him, he’s already lost. Getting to that point where a critical mass of the GOP has had enough is the problem.

    • ocschwar

      A GOP that refuses to hold him to account for anything, and the FSB, which has the dirt on GOK how many GOP bigwigs.

      • Dennis Orphen

        The only dirt the FSB needs is the proprietary source code in what is euphemistically called ballot boxes in some states, who wrote it, who implemented it, and where the necropolis they were bricked up in is located.

  • nominal

    “In the short term, though, Trumpism must be defeated. It must be discredited. But on its own terms.”

    Serious non-sarcastic question here. “Trumpism” seems to mean ignoring institutional norms (things like “pretending to tell the truth” and “letting people vote fairly,” for instance) and, at times, the law itself and rely on the inability of the institutions to respond. How do we fight that on “its own terms?” What does that mean?

    • neroden

      Build our own instutions, hold true to OUR institutional norms… and ignore their twisted concepts of institutional norms.

      Arrest the President. Prosecute him.

  • Chalk me up as a pessimist. I think that the institutional structure we have won’t be able to survive in tact in the long term.

    It used to be any committed person could have (or at least reasonably feel they have) a real effect on the way their world worked. My father loves to tell the story about how my great grandfather stopped the Piggly Wiggly from coming to town because they’d sell beer. He was a modest farmer but able to keep the county dry–hard to believe we’re related!

    Most power which would effect someone’s day to day life was local and even if you couldn’t get what you wanted done you could see why, it wasn’t some opaque mystery. You knew it was Mrs. Johnson or Reverend Peterson who veto’d you, not some impersonal “they”. Now, with multinational corporations, mass financialization of the economy, nationalization and professionalization of the politics, its difficult for people not to feel completely powerless and disconnected from the system. Their world really is outside their control or even their influence. They become desperate and cynical and paranoid about keeping what power they have, or even just what power they can let themselves imagine that they have.

    Long term, I see a feature of fights of devolution and Balkanization, with all the messiness that implies and not much to the good. But on the plus side I have a very limited imagination and am usually biased towards the negative when I’m wrong. So who knows?

    • nemdam

      So who knows?

      Even though I have a lot of thoughts about this (see above), this is the ultimate idea to keep in my mind when anyone spouts off about what’s going to happen beyond a month or two from now. We are in unchartered territory and no one really knows what’s going to happen.

    • nominal

      But we’ve lived in this world since way before your grandfather’s day. I’m assuming that was in the 30s at the earliest, and that’s well after all of those problems became institutionalized. Powerlessness at the hands of finance and big business? Industrialization? Nationalization? Professional politicians? Those were huge issues in 1830, let alone 1930.

      Look at your example. Anybody, anywhere can stop any liquor store from opening up even today in liberal, big business Los Angeles. Just write some letters and go to some ABC meetings. I’ve done it dozens of times . It happens almost every day. That hasn’t changed. What’s changed is that your grandfather could pretend that stopping liquor sales in a county mattered and could pretend his actions mattered. Decades after it had long ceased to, at least in the way he thought.

      Like most of our “new” problems, the problem isn’t new. The PERCEPTION of the problem is new. Your grandfather was every bit as powerless as you are. He just didn’t think he was.

      • I don’t think you’re wrong. My grandfather probably had little more control over the world than any engaged citizen does right now. The issue is what he perceived his world to be. His world was about 1500 people in a section of South Carolina swamp, with a vague, hazy image of “up North” or “out West” and maybe, maybe “other countries” or “there be dragons”. If he could stop a liquor store in his home town, he basically altered his entire world and the lives of everyone in it. If I were to do the same now, everyone could just drive over to the next county (or block) and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

        For his world he really could effect significant change. Our worlds have gotten bigger, we have (at beast) just as little power to change it as before. Thus we rightly feel less powerful in proportion.

      • Drew

        Why do you want to want to deprive me of my liquor?

      • neroden

        It’s worth noting that there were communist and fascist revolutions in the 1910s and 1920s and 1930s, in response to these problems.

        In the US, we instead got the New Deal. Without it — probably either a communist revolution or a fascist revolution. (I’d prefer the communists over the fascists, but I’d prefer the New Deal over either.)

        • Michael Cain

          Yep. When I was a lad, my rural Iowa grandfather told me stories about the Depression, including the fascists and the communists alternating monthly “it’s time for a revolution” meetings at the Grange Hall.

    • Deborah Bender

      You do have to provide for the common defense but not necessarily promote the general welfare, as long as people have the liberty and means to relocate. Devolution is pretty bad for public health, consumer safety and environmental issues, although voluntary compacts among states can help.

      I’m not entirely against devolution, because distributed systems tend to be more flexible and I hate being told what to do by Them as much as They hate being pushed around by Us.

      • I think there’s a more interesting dynamic between centralization of political power and progressivism than the contemporary left acknowledges. We tend to view the notion of “states’ rights” through the lens of the South’s rhetorical abuses and cynical ploys during the civil war. But the truth is, the fact that states were allowed independently to determine what constitutes property was what allowed Northern states to ban slavery in the first place. And one of the biggest matches that lit the kindling was a federal policy (the Fugitive Slave Act) which impinged on that “states’ right” to do so.

        Right now, we tend to view centralization as good, decentralization as bad. But that is mostly because centralized powers have proven more effective tools in recent years for obtaining progressive goals. But, prior to the New Deal, most progressive gains were obtained through the more decentralized power nodes in society: congregationalist churches, local unions and wildcat strikes, city/local governments, etc.

        The form of a governing system does not wholly determine the content. Centralized vs. diffuse power structures need to evaluated according the the good they can do now, not just how useful they were in the recent past.

    • neroden

      The institutional structure we have has been unfit for purpose my entire lifetime.
      (1) The Senate is malapportioned. 9 states have half the US population, and don’t even control 1/3 of the Senate. It’s undemocratic. It must be abolished.
      (2) The Electoral College is even more undemocratic, with the “winner take all” nonsense.
      (3) The House is grossly gerrymandered.
      (4) Lifetime appointments to the courts fill the courts with corrupt criminals; court positions need term limits.
      (5) Impeachment, to remove the corrupt criminals in the courts and in the Presidency, is *way* too hard, and goes through the malapportioned Senate.
      (6) The malapportioned Senate has full power over treaties (this led to bad treaties repeatedly).

      What we need is:
      (1) party-proportional representation for the House: if the Purple Party gets 10% of the vote, it gets 10% of the seats
      (2) No Senate
      (3) National approval voting for the President: up or down on each candidate, the candidate with the most thumbs up wins
      (4) 14-year terms for judges, like on the New York State courts

      • I’d agree with all those reforms. But no president at all: cabinet secretaries are confimed to 10 year terms by 6/10ths of house and get to nominate underlings for 50% confirmation with 4 year terms.

      • Kapricorn4

        It really does not matter who you vote for, because nothing changes for the better either way. Or hadn’t you noticed ?

  • ASV

    If no one has yet written a book or article called The Butterfly Ballot Effect, about how the 2000 election has rippled out into 17 years of domestic and global chaos, well, someone please do that.

    • Dennis Orphen

      If it comes to the point where some of us may have to restore democracy, die boldly.

  • Yestobesure

    So much about this post that I like, but I take issue with a big chunk of the economic logic. Govt deficits don’t lead to low interest rates; precisely the opposite. The more the govt borrows, the less capital is available for other borrowers. While Bush was wrong to debt finance his tax cuts and wars, that wasn’t the reason for the bubble or the crisis. What did push rates down, inflating the bubble and exploding the trade deficit? Foreign capital flowing to US markets, a big chunk of that coming from China’s exchange rate management. See Martin Wolf of the FT and economist Michael Pettis for good treatments of this issue. Of course Trump complains about it now as China no longer engages in this policy.

    • dnexon

      They’re supposed to drive rates up. That’s the whole theory, right?

      Anyway, this is actually very poor writing on my part. I jammed together aspects of the last 25 years with some causal claims. I’m going to have to edit.

      FWIW, Oatley’s book is really worth reading. I’m not sure I agree, but it makes a very strong case.

      • Yestobesure

        The hard money nuts would say the fed was keeping rates too low for this sort of ulterior motive. They have been very wrong, as Krugman likes to point out, because if rates are kept too low, inflation would pop up. The answer is a combination of a few factors: global savings (german, chinese, at one time the petrostates); global inequality (wealthy people socking away more capital); slower economic growth and less opportunity for productive investment; and monopolies focusing on dominating industries rather than expanding. Larry Summers calls this “secular stagnation” and thinks more govt borrowing (to fund infrastructure) is an answer.

        • Dennis Orphen

          I know that we’re having a Civic Emergency (thanks for the nomenclature Howard), and this is a dnexon post, which might raise the already high bar of discourse here, but it is Friday night, so here goes: Hard Money Nuts could be the best band name ever. Move over King Snake Roost.

      • Yestobesure

        Will look into Oatley, thanks

    • dnexon

      I added a note and a link to your comments. Actually feeling really sheepish.

      • Yestobesure

        See the update and I like it. The Bush economy was certainly dependent on cheap credit; cheap credit hid a lot of problems and preempted solutions. Bush used low rates, he didn’t cause them. But you are correct that low rates are a continuing sign something is wrong.

  • markefield

    Some OTTOMH thoughts. This is by no means intended to be comprehensive.

    First, I think that the issues you raise began with Reagan. He destabilized the government finances by tripling the debt. He also laid the groundwork for the rise in inequality in various ways, most notably the reduction in tax rates on the wealthy. He violated norms (and laws) with the arms sales to Iran, the funding of the Contras in violation of statutory authority, and in remaining in office despite nearly certain Alzheimers in his last few years. He solidified the white supremacist faction of the R party and overtly politicized the Court with extremists. He lied repeatedly.

    For all that he gets good press now, GHWB normalized many of these trends, notably the pardons of the I-C criminals.

    Reagan laid the groundwork for Gingrich, who is the seminal figure in the collapse of institutional norms within Congress. I won’t try to justify that here, since I know that pretty much everyone would agree.

    Thus, what the task we face is to undo 37 years (and counting) of the problems you correctly note. Where to begin?

    1. Voting rights. To me, this has to be priority #1. No democracy can function if the political system is unable to reflect the “permanent and aggregate interests” (Madison’s phrase) of the citizens. Rule by a minority is simply an oligarchy. In the absence of a political solution, the only options are violence or acquiescence.

    2. Unravel the oligarchy. This means restructuring the tax system so that the rich pay. I’m talking about tax rates of 70%. I’m talking about about breaking up the big banks and much stronger regulation of corporate America than even FDR managed.

    3. Ending the policies by which wealthy Rs use government leveraged donations to finance the politicians who brought us to this point. No more foundations. Possibly no more “charitable” contributions, if that’s necessary to eliminate the abuses in campaign financing we see. Much stronger regulation of campaigns (see #1 above).

    4. An infrastructure plan to rebuild America for the 21st Century. This will employ lots of people as well as providing the basis for economic growth.

    5. Stronger commitments to equality. This may mean that we actually apologize to those wrongfully treated by Trump and even local police forces, combined with monetary aid where appropriate.

    6. I know you expressed skepticism, but increasing the size of the courts will be an essential component. The lower courts have been perpetually understaffed for a very long time. The SCOTUS robbery was just that. If we don’t deal with the Courts, they will operate as a 5th column, striking down or de-fanging the policies described above.

    In my view, we have a maximum of 2 electoral cycles to save the country. We need to plan for it now so that if (and I do mean “if”) the opportunity comes, we can seize the moment.

    • Joe Paulson

      Six months seems to have been so long ago but four years isn’t much time.

      Is key to come out running. Both Clinton and Obama seemed to take time to get going and it hurt them. In certain cases, it resulted in failures of policy.

      And, another basic thing is to remember this isn’t normal times. 20-0 to vote Christopher Wray out of committee while Amy Klobuchar jokes about how their daughters are friends. No.

    • Gregor Sansa

      I agree.

      We have to plan for the case where Democrats get control of all three houses (congress and the white one) in 2020.

      One open variable is the SCOTUS. If Kennedy and/or RBG is gone and there are 5 or 6 nutjobs, then yes, we have to pack the court. If not, then we will have dodged a bullet.

      At that point, regarding your point number 1: YES! We need something that will harmonize and expand voting rights; that will stop gerrymandering; that will increase turnout; that will reduce wasted votes, especially for minority groups who don’t happen to live in select VRA-mandated districts; that will ensure that both parties have a balance of moderates and firebrands, so that real reforms can be raised but the median vote doesn’t swing wildly back and forth; that reduces zero-sum campaigns characterized by personal mudslinging, overdependence on money, and horse-race coverage.

      I bet nobody can guess what my prescription for all that is.

      Surprise! It’s voting method reform! Specifically, proportional representation! Even more specifically, an optionally-delegated method like GOLD voting!

      • Hogan

        We have to plan for the case where Democrats get control of all three houses (congress and the white one) in 2020.

        And guarantee who those Democrats will be, and whether they’re on board with that plan. But after that it’s easy peazy lemon squeezy.

        • homunq

          Didja see how the Republicans were desperate for an ocare replacement plan and would have taken any plan that was ready and halfway plausible? The Dems do their homework more, but still, having something premade and ready can be more than half the battle.

          Easy peazy lemon squeezy it’s not, but worth a try it is.

    • Cheap Wino

      I was thinking the same about how the screws were loosened starting with Reagan. But as long as were going there wasn’t Reagan basically the Nixon Republicans coming back to power (many of whom also were power brokers under the Bushes)?

      • markefield

        Yes, in some sense much of the problem goes all the way back to Nixon. But Watergate at least formally upheld the rule of law, and Nixon never had the chance to undo the New Deal. It’s the Reagan Administration where shit began to flow downhill.

        • dea

          1964 campaign. Goldwater lost, but the conservatives became energized. It was the culture wars that began to split the country into the factions that we see today.

    • WinningerR

      More importantly, Reagan started the long march toward delegitimizing the government itself. He so successfully convinced a solid majority of the country that the government and its programs were generally incompetent, corrupt, and mired in bureaucracy that, eventually, even the Dems were forced to accept and attempt to co-opt his argument (Clinton’s declaration that “the era of Big Government is over.”), Thirty years on, the Dems are still unwilling to offer a full-throated defense of government and its unique ability solve big problems and promote the general welfare.

      Reagan’s assault on government laid the foundation for the endless assaults on the social safety net we’ve seen ever since. (Those welfare dollars and food stamps are going to strapping bucks feasting on T-bone steaks and queens who drive cadillacs and breed for the extra child support credits!) It’s also pretty easy to connect the dots between Reagan’s rhetoric and our absurdly low taxes on billionaires (the government would just waste that tax money), the healthcare morass (the last thing you want is the government involved in healthcare), the catastrophic deregulation of the financial industry (corrupt government is killing our economy by meddling with the finanvcial markets), and so many other problems that threaten our future.

      • Anna in PDX

        Yes. It started with his sneer about “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

      • neroden

        Reagan also started the tradition of spewing totally false bullshit, which was easily proved false. (Like, the “welfare queen driving a Cadillac”, which never happened, he just made it up. Or claiming that he’d balanced the budget when it had a huge deficit, which he did repeatedly.)

        Reagan introduced “alternative facts” to the political world. And he *got away with it*, which is why the entire Republican party copied him.

        The interesting thing is that it isn’t working nearly as well now as it was in the 1980s. My theory is that the population of the 1980s was heavily lead-poisoned by leaded gasoline in childhood, and therefore stupid. Many of them have died off. People who grew up after 1973 are more intelligent for each year they are younger, as the lead was phased out of gasoline, and so they are less willing to believe blatant bullshit.

        • Kapricorn4

          Correlation of two variables does not prove which one is the cause and which one is the the effect. It is just as likely that the concentration of the media outlets into six large multi national corporations has brainwashed TV watchers into believing that the US is a democracy, where the “vote” is usually fairly evenly divided between the two main political parties, between whom there is actually little practical significance and the big donors get their way. Your vote is basically meaningless.

    • neroden

      “Save the country” from what?

      I think there’s still a good chance of saving the union long after that, but if the goal is *avoiding a civil war*, we don’t have very long.

      My estimates have generally been that the fall of the US happens a little before 2030, unless we get off the current trajectory.

  • medrawt

    The problems of a weak party structure may have manifested more immediately for Republicans, but I think Democrats also need to grapple with this, especially since a great deal of internal leftist anger at Democratic leadership seems like it can be boiled down to the idea that the party is too strong. Closed primaries are looked at as inherently suspicious and anti-(small d)-democratic, superdelegates are a tool to stifle the desires of the common man, etc.

    • nemdam

      But caucuses will solve everything.

      Suffice to say, I don’t take the above arguments seriously.

      • AlexSaltzberg

        Correct. All the flaws in the primary process pale compared to how awful caucuses are. Anyone who supports more and greater access to the system has to be in favor of getting rid of them.

        • FlipYrWhig

          They don’t support the principle of greater access to the system, they support any means necessary to take over because being convincing is a hassle, man.

          • nemdam

            Everyone knows true leftists try to take power by making their natural allies “bend their knees”. Or are their natural allies the alt-right because they aren’t PC like them? It’s hard to keep track.

    • xq

      Why do we have to grapple with it? Dem primary voters have no desire to nominate Trump-like candidates. (I don’t think strengthening party control over candidate nomination is a good answer for the Republicans either, but at least I see the justification).

  • BiloSagdiyev

    I, for one, welcome our new moss overlords!

    • Dennis Orphen

      I’m lichen that idea.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Yeah, it does grow on you after a while.

  • McAllen

    I increasingly think that we cannot restore political institutions and norms as they existed before Trump, at least not completely. What we need to think about then is how to replace them with something as small-d democratic. progressive, and workable as possible.

  • burritoboy

    wherein our good American cosseted academic begins to worry that Weber’s charisma is doing far too much work……..

    • postmodulator

      This legitimately reads like a Burroughsian cut-up.

  • ToddTheVP

    Just because America is rigged for a two-party system doesn’t mean the Republicans have to be one of those parties. From the Civil War through the Great Recession; every time we’ve let the right-wing off the hook it’s ended poorly. Take control of all three branches, grind them into the dust, and move onward and upward.

    • SatanicPanic

      That has mostly happened in California, but on a national level good luck

      • McAllen

        It will be difficult, to say the least, but it’s necessary. The republic cannot survive the Republican party as it exists today.

        • SatanicPanic

          If that’s the case I have to imagine the nation isn’t going to survive.

        • Dennis Orphen

          The Republican party as it exists today is a criminal organization, nothing more, nothing less.

          • lofistew

            Criminal organizations are reality-based. The current GOP is more like a religious cult.

            Not to say they can’t also be criminal at the same time…

            • PressSecretaryCaptainHowdy

              Cults usually are.

      • nominal

        There’s a decent argument we’re 10 years from that happening just by the process of demographics.

        • Dennis Orphen

          The process of demographics is bringing us closer to full Kornbluth. CA/OR/WA become more liberal via transplants, in my opinion.

          • neroden

            Nope, nope. See, the EPA started removing lead from gasoline in 1973. Starting with those born in 1974, every younger generation is smarter than the previous one, because they aren’t lead-posioned.

            And this correlates precisely with the rates of voting Democratic (intelligent) vs. Republican (brain-damaged) by age group. Isn’t that interesting? It’s not a coincidence.

            BTW, this is also why our liberal allies among older people are mostly REALLY old — born BEFORE the lead-in-gasoline epidemic got really bad.

      • golden_valley

        CA didn’t grind the Republican Party down. Geography did. The low population rural districts are few in number. Most residents live in suburban/urban districts. The two groups see life differently. Once it didn’t take a 2/3 vote to approve a budget Republicans didn’t have enough votes to obstruct.

        • SatanicPanic

          I don’t have a good definition for “grind down”. Republicans kept running on white power, and people rejected it. However you want to describe that is fine.

        • Dave W.

          No, what happened was that the suburban/urban districts became significantly more Democratic over time. Orange County used to be hardcore Republican. Pete Wilson was the Republican mayor of San Diego before he became Governor. Conventional wisdom is that Wilson’s support of Proposition 187 politically mobilized the Hispanic community and pushed them into the arms of the Democrats. That may not be the whole story, but it does seem to have been a significant part.

          • FMguru

            Another oft-overlooked part: The end of the Cold War and the 1991-1994 recession (which was unusually sharp and prolonged in California) sent a lot of middle-class white Californian defense workers (i.e the beating heart of the Republican base) out of the state (to Texas and Colorado and other places with lower costs-of-living).

            • Dave W.

              Good point.

            • Drew

              Didn’t Bush I close/restructure a lot of military bases too?

            • Just_Dropping_By

              To Texas maybe, but migration from California to Colorado in the early 1990s is usually considered one of the factors in pushing Colorado toward being more liberal, which would seem to suggest the migrants weren’t Republicans.

        • Deborah Bender

          Also we had the good luck to have an older and wiser Jerry Brown, who is a very capable politician.

        • neroden

          So, age is the primary factor — the later the birth year after 1974, the more Democratic the voters — and I think this is due to the removal of lead from gasoline. (Brain-damaged people are more likely to vote Republican.)

          The secondary factor is urban vs. rural. The Republican Party staked out an expressly anti-urban policy, which is a direct threat to most people living in cities, which is why every city votes Democratic now, even the tiny ones. Of course, cities are growing and rural areas are shrinking.

          BUT the problem is that we have a messed-up, undemocratic system where rural areas are massively overrepresented. This is most obvious in the Senate. But gerrymandering means it’s true in the House and in state legislatures too.

      • petesh

        How long the California Dems can hang together is a regrettably open question. It’s not hard to imagine them (us) splitting into two parties, giving us at the start a large centrist party (trad Dem) and two much smaller wing parties (rad Dem, rump Rep). But where that might go in a decade or two is a bit hard to predict.

        Extrapolate that out to Dem national sweeps in 18, 20 & 22; and I suspect you see the same dynamic. Which would of course be vastly superior to the current situation, but possibly almost as unstable.

      • neroden

        The Republicans have almost been wiped out in New England; a few governors run as Republicans on a platform of convenience, but apart from LePage (who gets about 1/3 of the vote in Maine and wins due to a bad voting system — he’d lose under approval voting) they’re not really aligned with the Republican party.

        New York is next; the Republicans here exist only through extreme gerrymandering, bribing Democrats, and the support of the supposedly Democratic governor.

        • SatanicPanic

          Good! We’ll have western free states and eastern free states and garbage in the middle

          • neroden

            The Republicans made a solid attack run at the Midwest, but I think they’ve just completely discredited themselves in Illinois, and probably in Wisconsin and Michigan too. The map is reverting to the 2000 map, except that Democrats are pushing their way south to control Virginia and North Carolina.

    • sharculese

      Oh my god that is the worst possible answer in the universe.

      (It isn’t actually, I just wanted to acknowledge your name and avatar.)

      • FMguru

        I ain’t wearin’ no gunny sack!

        • sharculese

          Don’t say cocaine ideas near this kid! It’s his BIRTHDAY, fool!

    • diogenes

      Certainly had our shot in 2008. Hope we take your advice next time, assuming there is one.

    • UserGoogol

      In a sense they do. If there’s two parties (or two coalitions or whatever), one of them is going to be left of center and one of them is going to be right of center. If the Republican Party goes away and is just replaced with an equivalent right of center party that doesn’t change anything.

      Of course, the Republican Party is not the unique way of forming a political party out of the right half of the American citizenry. But there’s only so many ways you can do things. With regard to internal party politics in principle it’s possible for the conservative party to be more moderate, but the whole problem here is that the proverbial deplorables have enough votes to win primaries. They won’t go away with a new party. The other option is to realign politics so different issues are considered pivotal as to which party you belong to and some people go from D to R and vice versa, but that doesn’t get rid of them either, and you need to split up the deplorable voters for them to not just take over whichever party they realign into.

      • ToddTheVP

        That’s fair. I suppose my bone to pick is that the current Republican party is a mishmash of hypocrisy (I want the government to provide me with goods and services but not tax or regulate me and I don’t want the government to provide people I don’t like with goods or services and heavily regulate them) and fantasy (insisting that creationism be taught as an alternate model) that’s really just a smokescreen for Hoovering all money upward.
        Meanwhile the Democratic party has been relegated to trying to find mutually agreeable answers to every real-world problem.
        So I would like to see party breaks along the lines of “what is the appropriate level of military intervention” or trade policies/protectionism. Or at least a conservative party that actual espouses conservative ideas. Maybe that’s just not possible in the wake of campaign finance deregulation and as long as the far right exists and votes hard, though.

  • Gepap

    I have to strongly disagree with the comments on debt because it seems to accept the conservative framing of the issue as somehow valid, and it isn’t. The main reason for the current debt levels was counter cyclical spending, not pro-cyclical spending. It also ignores that the main period of dismantling financial regulations was the 1990’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which created a political atmosphere that allowed for the breaking down of previous limits on finance, both nationally and internationally, and this happened at a time of declining US debt. Also, the “Starve the Beast” strategy predates any increase in general debt.

    High national debt does not somehow inherently lead to “boom or busts” either – the crowding out mechanism is clearly not real, as the continued level of low interest rates shows.

    • Yestobesure

      Second this for most part.
      Crowding out can happen, but it doesn’t cause booms and it is usually overwhelmed by other stuff.
      Bush 2 did take on procyclical deficits.
      The erosion of consumer financial protection did lead to awful consequences, as did the failure to treat shadow banks as systemically important.

  • Moslerfan

    Perhaps the biggest scam perpetrated by the finance sector is convincing people that finance is part of the real economy, that is, the part of the economy that produces real goods and services. Finance is an overhead cost on the real economy. As any good manager knows, overhead – however necessary – needs to be minimized in order to maximize profit. ‘Profit’ in this case being output of real goods and services.

    • Yestobesure

      Sure, but finance can do its job better or worse. When better, that can make the whole economy more productive.
      Finance can grow its share of GDP a few ways:
      1) grift, as we’ve seen a lot of recently (high fees to mismanage 401ks, missell securitized mortgages, dupe govts into bad derivatives trades). This is bad.
      2) outsourcing functions that used to be inside corporations. Instead of capital allocation happening within huge conglomerates as in india and east asia,
      3) making bets on stuff that grows gdp (railroads, venture capital)
      4) finding new ways to serve people in terms of insurance, maturity/risk transformation, funding new ventures, tapping value in latent assets…
      5) riding a bubble and skimming off the paper profits
      6) serving a function for the rest of the world – financial services as an export. britain is exemplar of that.
      7) cartelizing and collecting tolls from rest of economy (see IPO fees)
      8) coopting managers and using their good favor to siphon money from their shareholders

      • Anna in PDX

        Most of these seem completely parasitic. Am I missing something?

        • neroden

          (3) is useful and not parasitic. (4) is sometimes useful and not parasitic. The others are parasitic.

        • Yestobesure

          You’re not.

  • Hondo

    The article in Survival? Not for $42. Thanks anyway. But, good post. I am sharing it around.

  • trog69

    ” image from the Fallout Wiki, intended as metaphor]”

    I just got Fallout 3 to work with mods last night, after months of trying various fixes to no avail, so I’m getting a kick, etc.

    • sharculese

      I think that was prerelease concept art. I remember having it as my desktop senior year of college.

  • mary s

    OK, then let’s go back to the “unpunishing” (aka pardoning) of Nixon. Or back to the way the white supremacists in the south were allowed to retake control. It’s very depressing. It takes something very significant (civil war, enormous economic catastrophe sans safety net, a surge of civil rights activism that gets televised, during a cold war) to create the conditions for rejiggering (or, at least, the kind of rejiggering I want to see). Even so, there were many who despised the New Deal — including my grandpa, who, even though the New Deal brought electricity to his farm, never changed his mind about the awful communism of FDR and (perhaps more importantly) Eleanor R.

    On the economic stuff I disagree — I am a fan of what Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein have to say.

    • medrawt

      I recently proposed the pardon of Nixon to my dad, who was in college at the time. He acknowledged that in the moment he felt like he understood that the pardon was necessary for national healing, but perhaps I was correct that in retrospect it set the tone for all the cynicism (look out for burritoboy!) people have had about our political system, growing every year. Imagine if we had the example of Nixon actually being called to account for his crimes, as a symbol that we really do mean what we say in our self-aggrandizing rhetoric about American values.

      • spencer_e9876

        My dad is only a few years older than yours, but is unable to find his way out of the “Ford did what he had to do! The country was tearing itself apart! You were too young to remember what it was like in 1974!” subroutine whenever we have that conversation.

  • AlexSaltzberg

    Note: I think the death of earmarks is a part of this as well. Previously, members of Congress could point to earmarks as “doing something”, which would allow them to sell the federal government as working for their local citizens.

    The only thing Republicans in Congress can deliver to their constituents is anger at the federal government or to the other party. They can’t brag about highway improvements or the new hospital anymore.

    • Cheap Wino

      There is something to this. But weren’t earmarks generally derided as “pork” and pork seen as evidence that all politicians are corrupt?

      • PressSecretaryCaptainHowdy

        It was a manufactured issue in 2008, in particular one that McCain grandstanded on.

      • rm

        Turns out pork was good. When it comes home to your district, it’s bacon.

  • pdxtyler

    Thanks for posting this on Friday afternoon so I can at least start drinking guilt free. The only quibble I would have is the dismissing of trade as a scapegoat. The economic effects might have been fairly small, but outsourcing played a huge role in destroying organized labor. When we’re discussing alienation from government I think that losing the only working class institution is often overlooked. Given that even white men who are members of unions vote Democratic at a much higher rate than those that are not members, I wonder if trumpism would even be possible today if union density was still around the 23% it was in 1980.

  • Gepap

    There is no bringing back norms generally speaking – the question is what new norms you create. Norms don’t exist apart from the underlying conditions that brought them into existence.

  • Mike in DC

    How does the “Trump actually goes to prison” scenario play out? Is there a civil war within the GOP? Do the hyperpartisan members of the base and establishment vow revenge? Does the undeniable reality of overwhelming public evidence and criminal convictions finally penetrate the primal lizard brain of the GOP base and cause a moment of actual introspection?

    • Yestobesure

      A bunch of people whine about it on twitter. Hannity gets mileage out of denouncing it to the hardcore. And people in general self-identify less as Republicans for a year or two.
      Then the party rebounds again through opposition to the new Dem President. Trump is referred to as a rino. Nothing changes because the media and the culture wont change that quickly. Trump’s conviction won’t make anyone pro choice, pro redistribution, or pro civil rights. Those battles must be won on the ground.

  • A few thoughts in response:

    1) Safeguarding democratic norms is the key. Institutions can be perverted into serving autocrats, and once that happens, respect for the institution becomes a tool of autocracy. But due process, the rule of law, freedom to criticize and hold to the authortities to account without fear of retaliation by the state, resistance to scapegoating…these must be held onto. Institutions can be rebuilt or replaced, but only on the basis of those norms.

    2) Autocrats and would-be autocrats can always count on a certain amount of popular support. That’s bad news, but the good news is that resisting autocrats doesn’t require converting their hard-core supporters. That never happens. Even on the eve of Watergate a quarter of the American public still supported Nixon, and almost half of Republicans supported him. So the fact that Trump maintains his core support is cause for neither surprise nor despair.

    3) Divisions among Democrats and “Democratic-leaners” are cause for concern. Of course some healthy debates should happen, and fortunately I think those bent on conflict are very much in the minority. The problem is that you can be sure that outside forces will do their best to divide those resisting their power. Don’t fall for it!

  • LosGatosCA

    In the long view of history, Bush II and Trump are going to look like two peas in the same pod.

    Minority vote election winners who were thoroughly unfit for office, ignorant/uncurious, and representing the kleptocracy. Sure there’s a slight degree of difference because the Republican establishment was behind Bush but initially not behind Trump.

    The real mistake the Democrats made in 2009 was in not pursuing economic justice, a la a Pecora commission. Obama, Holder, Geithner, Bernanke de facto pardoned the robo signers, the securitization frauds, the bogus rating agencies, etc.

    Accountability has historically been for the little people, but now the big fish are simply immune.

    Torture – don’t look back.
    Robosigning/Securitization – we’ll take a slice of your profits
    Issuing bogus bond ratings in the market place – nothing to see here

    The Democrats brand should be economic justice and accountability for all.

    To me the ‘neoliberal’ position is pretty simply that economic justice and accountability for all is not a concern.

    Anyway, 1980 was the inflection point and the momentum has been all in the wrong direction since.

    • Joe Paulson

      2008 wasn’t 1932, so I am not surprised the Democrats didn’t govern as it was.

      • LosGatosCA

        No excuse

        • Joe Paulson

          Yes, it was.

          The times were different. Not going to be the same reactions.

          • neroden

            It was no excuse. The “pardon everything”, “bend over backwards to help the Republicans”, “let the criminal activity continue” policies of the Obama administration were politically disastrous — this was evident in advance — and there is no excuse for them. They are the direct cause of Trump’s election.

            • Joe Paulson

              This is an exaggerated expression of what happened.

              The point remains: things were different in 1933 and 2009 & this affected the practical responses. And, even in 1933 there was a lot of compromises, which nerodens of the time were upset about.

              • LosGatosCA

                Times are always different, otherwise we’d all still be in caves.

                The values are what should not change. Accountability is for everyone.

                • Joe Paulson

                  We can trade platitudes but we are in the same place: different times result in different practical outcomes in various ways.

                  Likewise, what also doesn’t change is reality. Various forces have to be balanced in reality. The 1930s with compromises with racists and others, yes in various ways business too surely saw that.

    • reattmore

      Prosecuting a bunch of bankers over the 2008 crash would have been futile–the problem was, for the most part, not law breakers, but the stuff that had been legalized.

      • LosGatosCA

        That view is as bogus as Obamacare was a Heritage plan.

        The security frauds were real and straightforward to establish.

        The rating agency frauds were real and straightforward to establish.

        The robo signing was just as bogus as the latest Wells Fargo fraud in opening accounts.

        The decision was made to ‘foam the runway’ not prosecute the perps. That was a moral failing in my opinion.

      • neroden

        This is flat out false. The problem was, for the most part, outright lawbreakers.

        The robosigning was straight up frauds against the court. It was mostly not prosecuted because Too Big To Jail.

    • Dennis Orphen

      Ok, it’s time to drive the stake through the heart of the Obama didn’t pursue economic justice hard enough and that’s why Hilary lost and we lost congress arguments for once and for all. Two things immediately come to mind. First, any and all guilty parties could be appointed to the Trump administration and the GOP wouldn’t lose a single vote or a single supporter. Second, the Berniebots who didn’t support Clinton to the point of actively undermining her campaign to the point of not voting, or voting third party didn’t give a flying fuck about the issue until the GOP/FSB Trollbot internet armies manipulated them into using the issue to club Clinton/Obama/the DNC with.

      I agree with you that economic justice should have been persued with more vigor, but it wouldn’t have kept us from arriving at the present situation, in some form or another.

      • Uncle_Ebeneezer

        If only we had primaried Obama, we wouldn't be in this mess!

      • LosGatosCA

        That’s one way to whistle past the graveyard

      • neroden

        Ah, so you bought the Clinton line. It’s false.

        The fact is that Obama’s refusal to pursue any form of justice whatsoever (not even prosecuting blatant frauds against the courts), and Obama’s open hostility to economic justice (you do know he COULD have simply let the Bush tax cuts for the superrich expire by DOING NOTHING, but instead CHOSE to make them permanent) — they basically alienated enough people that “more of the same” Clinton was going to have a very very hard time wininng anything.

  • MariedeGournay

    Posts like this are why I taken up the habit to making short prayers to Nemesis.

  • Matt C Colgan

    Very good post!!

  • eclare

    And on top of all this, my dog is dying. What a shitty week.

    • Many, many sympathies. <:(

    • Hogan

      Aw man. Big hug.

    • catbirdman

      My cat, too. I’m in a total funk this week.

      • eclare

        :(

    • Drew

      Sorry, that’s terrible. I remember having to put down my dog a few years ago. It was awful.

  • Tracy Lightcap

    Excellent post, one go the best ever here.

    My advice: read Wolfgang Streeck (rhymes with steak, btw). Buying Time: the Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism is his recent big effort, but his website has plenty of other work examining different aspects of all this. It isn’t fun to do this, but it does broaden your sources.

  • Murc

    Dan, you don’t post as much as I’d for you to, but man, when you DO post you knock it out of the park.

    I would like to suggest you shop this thing around as a full-blown op-end piece.

    • petesh

      Have to cut it down a bit for most Op-eds, but I strongly agree with the sentiment.

  • petesh

    Gee, golly-gosh, that nice AG Sessions was not entirely precise in his characterization of his cozy little chats with the Russian ambassador. Whodathunk?
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/sessions-discussed-trump-campaign-related-matters-with-russian-ambassador-us-intelligence-intercepts-show/2017/07/21/3e704692-6e44-11e7-9c15-177740635e83_story.html

    • At this point I think we can safely say the Pee-pee tape’s existence (and all the absolute worse assumptions in regard to Russia) is almost certain.

  • ForkyMcSpoon

    Talk like this makes me want to plan a #ForkyMcExit (I feel stupid just mimicking the #demexit folks)

    Emigration is a lot easier when you’re a dual citizen.

    • farin

      #ExitMcExitface is trending!

  • pseudo-gorgias

    Good thing we spent the best part of 2016 debating whether Colin Kapernick was the second coming of rosa parks!

    • Hogan

      Who’s “we,” paleface?

  • SpiderDan

    As I read this entry, I cannot help but look at these events through a butterfly-effect lens of the 2000 election. It seems like Ralph Nader will end up being the turning point for the United States of America.

  • Monty

    Truly an excellent piece, albeit somewhat depressing. To which I’d like to add several somethings.

    Perhaps less an insightful reading and more about my inferences, but it seems to me right wing Republican savaging of what I’ll call ‘longstanding norms of political behavior’ sets, indeed has already established, extremely dangerous precedents (the ultimate effects of which I with my tiny non-beautiful mind can barely begin to fathom) for not only the US of A, but the world community. Call it a sort of ‘ratcheting’ effect. To me, the operant word in all of this should be “precedent.”

    Been flipping through a vintage copy of Goldwater’s ‘Conscience of a Conservative’ (May 1960 edition) and you know what? Some arguments, at least on the surface, seem eminently reasonable. Although implicit and direct references to Socialism and Communism may seem dated -Goldwater often conflates the aforementioned with Liberals/Liberalism, which remains right wing vogue- the entire screed serves as an instruction manual for today’s RWNJs. I strongly recommend a first reading or even a rereading; its only 20K or so words.

    Opening paragraph from Chapter 1:

    I have been much concerned that so many people to day with Conservative instincts feel compelled to apologies for them. Or if not to apologize directly, to qualify their commitment in a way that amounts to breast-beating. “Republican candidates,” Vice President Nixon has said, “should be economic conservatives, but conservatives with a heart.” President Eisenhower announced during his first term, “I am conservative when it comes to economic problems but liberal when it comes to human problems.” Still other Republican leaders have insisted on calling themselves “progressive” Conservatives.* These formulations are tantamount to an admission that Conservatism is a narrow, mechanistic economic theory that may work very well as a book-keeper’s guide, but cannot be relied upon as a comprehensive political philosophy.

    *This is a strange label indeed: it implies that “ordinary” Conservatism is opposed to progress. Have we forgotten than America made its greatest progress when Conservative principles were honored and preserved.

    Part of me wonders what Mr Goldwater’s take on modern ‘Conservatives’ would be; I dimly recall a Barry Goldwater/Hunter Thompson interview, where Thompson’s takeaway was that Goldwater was “a dangerous man.”

    At this point I see no way to avoid US (currently a misnomer?) Civil War II. Honesty compels me to admit that my current levels of frustration have reached such levels to imagining committing violent acts against what I perceive to be active opposition to a democratic republic. Sad:(

    • Linnaeus

      Have we forgotten than America made its greatest progress when Conservative principles were honored and preserved.

      Perhaps I’m being unfair, but Goldwater here seems to be doing what a lot of conservatives do when faced with liberal reforms that take root and become normalized: repackage them as conservative (or at least pretend that they were for them all along) and then reset the (metaphorical) clock to zero.

      Andrew Sullivan did something similar in his New York magazine column yesterday, in which he casts Barack Obama as the conservative in opposition to a radical GOP:

      Obama, in fact, was the conservative in all this — nudging and amending, shaping and finessing as American society evolved — while the GOP flamed out in a reactionary dead end. But Obama’s conservatism has nonetheless brought about an epochal, defining achievement for American liberalism: a robust American consensus in favor of universal health insurance. Yes, he could.

      While I’d agree that the GOP has gone in an increasingly radical direction and that not every conservative is a radical right winger, it nonetheless irks me to see Sullivan try to claim that Obama was the “conservative” here because he didn’t offer a more radical solution to the problem of providing health insurance to more Americans. Not being a socialist or even a social democrat does not mean that you are a conservative. So we see Sullivan playing the old game of arguing that conservatism never fails, it can only be failed.

      • applecor

        Well sort of. Sullivan calls anything he likes “conservative”, including gay marriage, so he doesn’t apologize for the same beliefs as other “conservatives”.

        • Joe Paulson

          That’s the charm of open-ended words including something like “conservative” that might just be a matter of where the goal posts are. Same sex marriage very well might be “conservative” — some, e.g., think it is a bad idea because you are merely joining an out of date institution. Some conservatives do probably honestly join same sex marriage — it is a question of why.

      • Monty

        Sully is an unprincipled bag of shit masquerading as a proponent of Burkean-style political philosophy.

        Not being a socialist or even a social democrat does not mean that you are a conservative. So we see Sullivan playing the old game of arguing that conservatism never fails, it can only be failed.

        See Kansas.

      • Deborah Bender

        Building the Transcontinental Railway was not a conservative project.

        The Louisiana Purchase was not conservative.

  • heckblazer

    Another factor for the weakness of the Republican elites is the one-two punch of the Abramoff scandal and Citizens United. They used to be able to enforce party discipline by controlling money for campaigns; cross the leadership and suddenly you’ll have a well-funded primary opponent to deal with. After the K Street Project blew up with indictments that crippled that source of control. Then billionaires like the Kochs started stepping in to fund candidates they liked, which created an alternate structure outsiders like the Tea Party could use. Citizens United then really poured fuel on the fire.

  • Joanne

    There is no doubt that there will be much damage to be repaired but I think that the damage to institutions is overstated. What we are witnessing is the death rattle of 80s style conservatism – they know this is their last gasp and they are proceeding accordingly. The farcical results thus far are highly encouraging.

    • neroden

      You are correct: this is the death rattle of 1980s-style right-wingery.

      Unfortunately death rattles can be very dangerous. The right-wingers are cornered and know that they cannot win through elections, *so they are attempting to eliminate democracy*. This is very similar to the situation the slave states were in *right before the Civil War*.

      The Civil War was the death rattle of the slavers’ politics. They were doomed in any case, and they had zero chance of winning the war, but they went out in an apocalpytic blaze of death, because they were evil.

      Let’s hope it doesn’t get that bad this time.

      • Joanne

        I agree that we are in as bad of a crisis as the country has seen since the 1860s. But until half a million Americans perish, the Civil War will still be several orders of magnitude worse.

  • afdiplomat

    I’d have been more pleased with this post if it had included a reference to the role of race in the developments it describes. Perhaps that was assumed, but it shouldn’t have been. Among other things, racism drives antidemocratic politics, as it did (for example) in the inclusion of the “three-fifths compromise” in the original Constitution. If your vision of governance is fundamentally Confederate (in the way Ed Kilgore has often discussed on his blog), then the goal of maintaining the eternally correct system of white male Christian dominance can easily appear to justify antidemocratic actions aimed at those intending to undermine this immutably right arrangement. And this attitude can apparently accommodate an antidistributionist Randian overlay, since the idealized “makers” in such a system are assumed to be white men. (They would not of course be Christians in the pure Randian scheme, which is explicitly anti-Christian, but then that’s a straddle that assertedly devout Catholic Randians such as Paul Ryan seem to carry off in practice despite the theoretical tensions).

    In any case, even a sketch at this level of detail that does not include an explicit consideration of race as a driver of the developments discussed is really incomplete.

  • Rusty SpikeFist

    In the wee hours of the night, I tweeted out my despair at the current crisis of the Republic.

    nobody cares what you think.

    • anon1

      I care what he thinks.
      I want to know what happens when Trump pardons his sons. And can he pardon himself?

  • shah8

    I’m expecting either an armed coup or a mass civil government strike to be what ends Trump.